Category Archives: Training

Still Designing Software Training Like It’s 1999?

Prince’s 1999 album was released back in 1982, 17 years before 1999. At that time, some people thought that the world might end at the turn of the millennium, with the U.S. stockpiling nuclear weapons and taking a firm stance against the Soviet Union. So, Prince’s song lyrics, “… party like it’s 1999,” meant party like it’s the last party of your life.

Well, we survived Y2K. Computers throughout the world didn’t crash, and there was neither Armageddon nor nuclear war. We moved on.

From Adobe Stock

There’s one thing for certain, Prince’s song was looking to the future, not the past. It was looking 17 years into the future. So, how does this relate to learning and development? Are you designing your training for the future or the past? Specifically, does your software training look like it was designed in 1999? Perhaps it’s time, or past time, to move it to the present and look to the future.

If you look at some of the software training from 1999 (and before that), you’ll see that a lot of software training was designed around software navigation and was menu-driven. There’s no better way to put learners to sleep than to place menu-driven software training in front of them. This is true for both instructor-led training and eLearning. Base software training on menus puts learners into a deep trance.

Why is menu-based learning a bad design for software training? Menus are created for navigation, not for training. As humans, we use software to get things done. We have certain tasks we need to complete, and that’s all we want to use our software for. We are not using the software to “enjoy the menus.” The menus are just tools that enable us to get to what we need in order to perform a particular task. Most business software is created to help users complete certain tasks. For example, inventory systems are created to help businesses manage and keep accurate records of their assets. Payroll software is created to help businesses pay their employees. These are all tasks that must be done. So, since our learners need to know how to do certain tasks, it makes sense that our software training should be task-based instead of menu-based.

Task-based learning involves asking which tasks users need to know and which tasks they use most often. Then, design the training around those tasks. Users will still learn how to use the menus, but just as a means to get to the tasks that they need to complete. Task-based learning involves immersing students in real-life situations so that the transfer of learning makes sense when they return to their jobs and apply what they have learned. Then, the learning makes sense.

Another issue with menu-driven software training is that it leads learners to think all menus are treated equal when some of the menus will only be used occasionally, if ever. If a menu isn’t going to be used very often, reference documents and Help are sensible alternatives. We shouldn’t try to teach every single nuance and feature in a course; it overwhelms the learner. However, by teaching the main tasks that will be used most often, learners will become familiar with the menus they will need most in order to get to the tasks they need to perform. If there are lesser-used, but important tasks that need to be taught, they can always be added to the course or to an advanced course after the most-used tasks are covered.

But what about the future of software training? Sure, course content should be task-based rather than menu-based, but with our ever-changing technology, we need to look to other options for the future of software training.

In a Utopian world, we would design our software to be so intuitive, that students don’t have to “learn” how to use it; they just use it. Software tools like Pendo, WalkThrough and UserIQ help guide users through tasks and enable them to see new features so they don’t have to go through software training. However, make sure that the methods in which you’re using these tools are still task-based, not menu-based. Whether it’s using one of these types of tools, having learners complete a class or eLearning, task-based learning is still a much better choice and a more effective way to learn software.

Take a close look at your software training. Does it look like it’s from 1999 or 2020? Is it more menu-based or task-based? Is it in need of a redesign? You can improve the learner experience and help make the transfer of learning easier by designing your software training as task-based learning.


The 1960’s called, they want their training back!

How are you designing your training these days? Does it look like training did in the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s? Times have changed, keep up. Get your training up-to-date! It should not only look good, but it should be effective. Train for today’s world, not yesterday’s.

There is no excuse to be using old methodologies, old design and old technology for training. Those of us in the business of Learning and Development strive to help learners learn. But sometimes we might be the impediments to orchestrating learning. The more poorly-designed training and eLearning out there, the worse it looks for our whole industry. The more crap training we put out there, the more people avoid attending training or going through eLearning. Some have started resisting “pushed” learning like the plague. Don’t give training and eLearning a bad rap, redesign your old stuff.

People like Julie Dirksen, Michael Allen, Clark Quinn, and Will Thalheimer started preaching this stuff when they wrote their Serious eLearning Manifesto back in 2014. They worked hard to get people on-board in order to produce more effective training. Kudos to them for bringing this to light. Part of effectiveness of learning is producing training for today and not yesterday.

Just when I see so much good and progress in our industry of learning and development, then I see so many examples of careless design and training thrown together and they call it training. Poor design and totally ineffective. Stop wasting people’s precious time. Come on, let’s all get on-board and turn this around.

The Time Has Come – eLearning!

A case for changing from e-Learning to eLearning.

Language is such a fluid thing. It’s constantly changing. It never stands still. In France, they have the Académie française that has the official authority on usages, vocabulary and grammar of the French language and to publish official dictionaries. These are basically a group of people who sit down and determine the use of words and how words change over time. We don’t have anything like that here in the United States. But the fact is, we have words that change over time—especially the ones that are used more and more frequently. For example, take email. Originally, it started out as e mail. Then it morphed into e-mail and now it’s changed into a “closed compound” word by eliminating the hyphen and becoming email.

Per The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, there is a “trend toward closed compounds.” They go on to say, “With frequent use, open or hyphenated compounds tend to become closed. …” Another example of this is “on-line” which has become, over time, “online.”

Apple takes this concept to a whole different level with their iAnything! They have their iPad, iPhone, iWatch and maybe tomorrow’s iLunchBox. They don’t hyphenate it. They imply high-tech with the use of a small case “i” in front of their products. We have already taken learning into high-tech and have been doing this for years and years. I’m not implying we should have iLearning; that will be held for Apple to fight for that one, I’m certain. But let’s update this overly-hyphenated word, eLearning, and update it for this millennium.

eLearning has been around long enough. Many have already switched to eLearning, like and eLearning Magazine. Meanwhile, there are those who use both and those who are stuck with the omni-present hyphen. I say it’s high time we move forward to eLearning. Enough time has passed; it’s time to put the hyphen to rest.

The train has left the station, so get on board. Besides, there’s also mLearning to contend with. But that will have to be for another day.

Ditch the Objectives!

What? Heresy! Oh my, you want me to do what?

In today’s world, we talk about making the learning process engaging for learners; in other words, making it “pop” for students. But, by constantly sharing objectives with learners, aren’t we making the learning process even less appealing? Let’s do more to make them snore!

No sign over ObjectivesIf you Google “learning objectives,” you’ll get page after page of entries on what they are, how to write them and how they relate to Blooms Taxonomy, etc., etc., etc. Objectives are important, but they are important to the instructional designer and how he or she designs and develops courses. Objectives do not need to be presented to learners. Why waste their precious time by burdening them with reading, or more likely, glossing over learning objectives? They will learn what they will learn. Telling them what they are supposed to learn is a total waste of time.

I am not saying that learning objectives are not important. Goals and objectives are the foundations of how eLearning and training should be designed, and they are a must for course design. But that is for the design and development; they do not need to be presented to learners.

How many times have you sat through training and were presented with a PowerPoint slide of objectives? Many start thinking, “OK, get on with the training already!”

Course Objectives Slide

Example of a snore-inducing objectives slide

Then, of course, at the end of the course or lesson, we also tell students what we think they’ve learned.

Course Summary slide

Example of repeating the objectives at the end of a course. Again, sleep-inducing!

I am not free from being guilty of this practice in the past. I think I had to go into therapy to rid myself of this bad habit. And as I recall, I think the 10-step program even included bullet point objectives!

It’s that old, outdated “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you’ve told them.” Stop it! I’ve even seen this carried over to eLearning. Stop this madness! There is no need to spell the objectives out for learners; get to the meat of your content!

Objectives should be used for design and development only; they are very valuable for creating courses and tutorials. They are also imperative if you are measuring the impact of the learning with a quiz, test, or a higher Kirkpatrick level of evaluation. However, don’t keep shoving them down the throats of learners—it’s a sure-fire way to put them to sleep.

(Updated 4/12/2016)

Your discussion on this topic is welcomed!

What We Heard: The Four Biggest eLearning Buzzwords of 2013

The year 2014 has commenced, the polar vortex moved in and now some of us are in the grand thaw. Many of us are just getting started with our new eLearning initiatives for the year. But before we proceed, perhaps we should take a few moments to reflect back on 2013.

Happy New Year

Source: Microsoft Office Gallery

Wow, last year we really saw some strides being made, and some bright spots of eLearning picked up some speed. Unless you lived under a rock in 2013, the following terms should sound familiar:

  • MOOCs
  • xAPI
  • Gamification
  • Digital Badges

MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, were not new in 2013, but the topic was seen everywhere: eLearning articles, blogs and magazines. It was definitely a “hot” topic this past year. Blackboard’s CourseSites has over 50 MOOC courses available. Coursera, the leading online host of MOOCs, today boasts that 6,009, 077 people have taken MOOCs on its site. They currently offer 563 courses in the MOOC format—amazing! More and more people are creating and taking MOOCs. I got on the MOOC bandwagon last year and took my first MOOC along with over 66,000 other people for the same course. That just makes my jaw drop. Massive education by some of the top professors—again, amazing!

Experience API (xAPI, formerly known as Tin Can API) also popped up in hundreds of articles. The Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative’s training and learning architecture, xAPI, gained ground this past year with more and more eLearning tools becoming early adopters of xAPI like Adobe Captivate, Articulate Storyline, Blackboard, iSpring, CourseMill, Lectora, LearnDash and dominKnow to name just a few. Experience API, per Wikipedia, is an eLearning “software specification that allows learning content and learning systems to speak to each other in a manner that records and tracks all types of learning experiences.” This even allows us to track informal learning, which we haven’t been able to do before.

Gamification, the use of game thinking, design and mechanics in non-game contexts, has also been around for a few years, but it was plastered all over eLearning newsletters, infographics, blogs and articles last year. We’re seeing an increase of gamification being used to better engage learners and to make them more interested in their eLearning. Companies like NTT Data and DeLoitte’s Leadership Academy are successfully using gamification in their eLearning programs. (See the Forbe’s article )

Digital Badges, like Mozilla’s OpenBadges, is an idea that is slowly taking hold; however, the topic was found in a plethora of places in 2013. Digital Badges, per Wikipedia, are “a validated indicator of accomplishment, skill, quality or interest that can be earned in various learning environments.” They’re basically online icons that represent the skills a person has earned. This means that an employer can get a quick glimpse at what you’ve accomplished from not only colleges, but other types of valuable training you’ve taken. The Manufacturing Institute has driven the development of the National Manufacturing Badge System this past year to help fill the gaping hole of manufacturing positions that are going unfilled due to there not being enough qualified or trained people. The system’s purpose is to help match qualified job-seekers with manufacturing employers.

Yes, 2013 was an exciting year for eLearning, and I expect that 2014 will come up with some new, different buzzwords to help move us along to get better trained for the new challenges of 2014.

Read More:

X’s and C’s: All MOOCs are not created equal!

Just when some of you are hearing that MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) exist, you learn that there are two types of MOOCs: xMOOC and cMOOC.

Stephen Downes, the man who coined both terms (visualize Jerry Garcia or David Crosby), explains an xMOOC as “if anything, it stands for eXtended.” He meant for it to “indicate programs that aren’t part of the core offering, but which are in some way extensions.” With the passing of time- if you can call since 2008 much of a history- the xMOOC has transformed into more of a traditional college course taught with newer technology and en masse.

George Siemens, who along with Downs was the co-founder of the first MOOC, explains that the cMOOC is based on the learning theory of connectivism that basically supports the theory that learning happens out of chaos, which sees the “connection of everything to everything”.  With today’s technology, this involves learners connecting with other learners in a large network using discussion forums, wikis, blogs and other social media. They can collectively create and generate content. Critics of xMOOCs call it more of a “knowledge consumption” vs. the cMOOC, which is more of a “knowledge production.”

I have experienced being a participant in both types of MOOCs. In the spring of 2013, I enrolled in an xMOOC hosted by Coursera called “Gamification.” Dr. Kevin Werbach of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania taught the MOOC, which was structured like a traditional college course but had enrollment of over 66,000 students.

In September, I started my first cMOOC hosted by Blackboard’s CourseSites called “Badges: New Currency for Professional Credentials,” which had an enrollment of just over 1,600 students. Several gurus of the digital-badges world, like Erin Knight (Mozilla), Deborah Everhart (Georgetown University) and Jennifer McNelly (The Manufacturing Institute), to name a few, were speakers during the content sessions on different weeks. These two contrasting MOOC styles appeal to different learners. For me, it was extremely organized content and social learning vs. esoteric chaos. The Gamification xMOOC motivated me to complete all of the assignments. Unfortunately, the Badges cMOOC had such arcane assignments, I only completed one. But, did I learn from both types of MOOCs? The answer is yes! If I had to do it all over again would I? Yes to that as well.

My suggestion is, if you haven’t experienced a MOOC yet, enroll in one and experience an xMOOC or a cMOOC.  The “open” part of MOOCs makes it easy. They are meant to be “open,” meaning no obstacles like educational prerequisites or fees.  So, what are you waiting for, go MOOC yourself!

Postscript – Now it’s 2016 and more terms have been added to our vocabulary along the lines of MOOCs. Now there are SPOCs and SOOCs. A SPOC is a “Small Private Online Course” and a SOOC is a “Selective Open Online Course”. SPOCs were popularized by the Harvard and UC-Berkeley crowds. SPOCs are mainly online courses that can be closed or private. Harvard, for example, offers a SPOC on “The Architectural Imaginary” to incoming Design School students. SOOCs tend to be open but may be massive or smaller (think hundreds instead of tens of thousands as for MOOCs) and are typically for a more targeted audience.

Additional reading:

I did it! I was part of the 8.4% – Final Thoughts on My First MOOC

Well, I did it! I successfully completed my first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). After six weeks of watching and listening to approximately 11 hours of video lectures, studying, organizing my notes, completing 4 quizzes, 3 written assignments, and a final exam, I passed my Gamification MOOC! I consider that quite an accomplishment for someone who hasn’t taken a college-type course in several years. This is my final blog entry on my first MOOC experience (Click here for part 1 of the article.)

The Stats

I don’t know why, but I find the statistics for MOOCs fascinating (it’s the “massive” part of the course I guess). According to our MOOC’s instructor, Dr. Kevin Werbach, as well as the results from the student survey, there were 66,438 people worldwide who enrolled in the Gamification MOOC. Of the total enrollment, 11 percent stayed in the course until completion with a total of 5,592 students completing the course with a passing grade (70% or better). Yes, I was part of the 8.4 percent who passed. (I’m clapping now!) That percentage seems so low when you first hear it. But think of if, over five and half thousand people successfully completed a course. Wow, that’s a lot more than can fit into most classrooms and still a lot more than take the average distance learning college course. Of the over 66,000 students who enrolled, only about half (52%) actually started the course.  Dr. Werbach guesses that the people who signed up for the free course decided it was too much work or didn’t have the time to complete it.

According to Dr. Werbach, the average age of the students for this MOOC was 33, most were employed full time (55%) and only 22 percent were full-time students. More men (66%) than women took this particular course, plus, over 56 percent said this was their first exposure to Gamification. I also found it surprising that 80 percent of the students already had a four-year degree and 44 percent had advanced degrees.

You can view Dr. Werbach’s video on the final statistics for this MOOC.

What It Was Like

What was so amazing to me was that I didn’t feel like I was in class with thousands and thousands of students.  How this MOOC was set up and delivered made me feel like I was in class with only 30 people. That’s quite a feat to pull off with a MOOC. The video “lectures” could have been majorly boring, but they weren’t. The professor’s charismatic voice and enthusiasm for the topic rang through the entire course, making the videos easy and interesting to watch. At first glance, the videos looked like a basic PowerPoint presentation but there was a small video on each “slide” of Dr. Werbach talking and explaining the course content. Graphics and statistics were shown and Dr. Werbach also used presentation tools to draw circles around important words, draw arrows and underlines for emphasis and draw additional graphics to further explain concepts.

We had four homework multiple-choice quizzes. These got a bit harder and were worth more as the course progressed. The final exam was a culmination of topics from the course and was also multiple choice. The written assignments were more of a challenge. Dr. Werbach gave us three different real-world scenarios and we had to write responses to his questions with the first assignment being a maximum of 300 words and the next two being a maximum of 500 and 1,500 words. Once the deadline for each written assignment had passed, you were assigned up to five assignments from other students that you were expected to peer-grade, using a Rubric. Although a few vocal students wrote protests to how they were peer-graded in the discussion groups, I thought the peer-grading experience was fair enough and very helpful. It allowed each of us to see how other students interpreted the assignments. Plus, there is no better solution to grading written assignments for that many people, especially when the course is free.

The Signature Track

I was enrolled in the regular (free) track for this course. However, there were about 2,000 people enrolled in what was called the “Signature Track.” The regular track offers a “Statement of Accomplishment” at the end of the course if you pass the MOOC. Coursera also offers a Signature Track, for $39.00 (U.S.) that allows learners to earn a “Verified Certificate” that“proves” you did your own work. This allows students to share their verified performance with work/school. The Signature Track requires students to log in using a web cam and a photo ID. It also uses biometrics using a student’s unique typing pattern to prove who they are for every time they log in for the course including taking each quiz, exam, and assignment.

Would I do it again?

Absolutely. This was a valuable experience and it gave me great hope as to what we could do in the world today with MOOCs and for educating the masses. Just think of the potential in taking some of the greatest instructors in the world today and instead of each of them teaching hundreds, opening up the opportunity to tens of thousands, or more, to learn directly from them!

Wow, learning for learning’s sake on a massive scale; what a concept! MOOCs seem to be a giant leap forward in education thanks to ingenuity and technology.